LGBT+ rights: Marriage is only the beginning

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I was sitting on the second floor of Stonewall having a Long Island with one of my dear friends when he told me that an acquaintance of his had said something troubling about the state of LGBT+ rights in the United States. I poked at the ice in my drink with my straw and braced myself for the absolute worst—some kind of paranoid reactionary slander or back-handed insinuation. He took a puff off of his cigarette and told me that this person thought that now that same-sex marriage was legal in Pennsylvania, it looked like we had reached the ‘Mission Accomplished’ stage of ‘gay rights’ (at least in the liberal North East).

As was the case with the infamous first declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished,’ the fanfare came far too soon.

There’s an unfortunate trend among some of my companions to believe that the majority of the battle has been won. I don’t like to be a sourpuss, but the present state of affairs leaves much to be desired at best. To say that we’ve obtained our civil rights is like saying that African Americans were equal citizens the day that they could ride a bus with the same dignity of any white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. It does not do the movement justice and makes the holder of that opinion a fool.

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In Pennsylvania, where I live, it is still legal to be evicted from an apartment building or to lose your job because you are LGBT+ or even perceived as queer. Even with President Obama’s recent executive order protecting the rights of federal workers, everyone else is still very much out in the cold. No wedding band can make this fact any less chilling. It’s been up to activists groups to go county to county in the state creating non-discrimination ordinances to protect the LGBT+ citizenry from discriminatory practices. As with every other minority in American history, it falls to us to fight for the rights that we should automatically be granted as humans.

If we think of rights in terms of human dignity, it becomes apparent that even in a place where everyone’s rights are regularly curtailed, LGBT+ people suffer a higher rate of abuse than their heterosexual counterparts. This discrimination cuts across all factors of race, gender, social status and religious orientation. In American prisons, for example, to be perceived as ‘queer’ is to invite higher risk of sexual and physical assault. Transgender prisoners are routinely discriminated against as a matter of policy, often times being put in prisons that do not align with their gender identity and are routinely denied hormones as well as other forms of medical treatment.

The scandalous treatment of Jane Doe, a sixteen year old transgender girl in Connecticut who was kept in isolation for over seventy days without charges; then was transferred to a boy’s correctional facility, serves not only to demonstrate the tragic, arbitrary abuse of LGBT+ people in prison, but also can serve as a metaphor for the treatment of LGBT+ people in all walks of life. Either through acts of out-and-out bigotry and rigged court systems or by social pressures that encourage self-policing behaviour (IE: The Closet), the LGBT+ community often stands isolated from their fellow warriors for civil rights. We are the only group that is not instantaneously recognizable; we must identify ourselves before we can even think of advancing our cause.

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Even with the recent downpour of judicial rulings in favour of marriage equality, there are still problems for couples looking to adopt; problems for couples who live in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage but were married in states that do, and the problematic road ahead for couples where one or both members are transgender or gender non-conforming. All of these issues can have repercussions in the realm of legal representation, employment and housing difficulties, discriminatory practices that continue thanks to religious exemptions, court rulings and over-all quality of life.

In other words, this is far from the end of the road. Marriage is merely the wrapping paper and bow that covers a gift no one quite knows what to do with. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s the trick in the left hand of the street performer that distracts us long enough for him to pick our pocket with his right. To focus all of our energy on marriage is to go for the bells and whistles rather than the substantive measures that will lead not only to our own sense of equality but to everyone’s liberation.

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